Seeking justice? Use consensus.
Yes, it does require more time. We too often see time as an enemy, but if taking the time necessary to thoroughly explore a topic, so all understand the complexity (or simplicity) of an issue, isn’t that time well spent? If we see that time is not a foe, but a tool that will help us get to the most helpful place, we can embrace the grace, truth, and hope that time gives us.
Most of this time will be spent in listening to the other. In majority rule, or interest is in telling our side of the story and giving our reasoning, it is not in listening to the other, sometimes it is not even listening to others telling our side of the story! Consensus requires listening! And listening well. But in that listening we gain understanding, perspective, and knowledge that majority rule does not require. We may discover an unexpected consequence before it bites us rather than afterward because we listened to the perspective of another as we thoroughly explore the issue or topic before us. Consensus values the people in the room making the decision more than the decision itself.
Majority rule begins not just by exploration of a problem but a solution to the problem that is voted up or down. Consensus begins with the problem and seeks to find solutions by careful listening and exploration of the problem. Even suggested solutions are open to tinkering and suggestions until the solution is seen by everyone as the best way to address the concern. Many times that means the group ended up somewhere different than anyone though they would be. It is usually a much more just place as well.
Marcia J. Patton, PhD, MDiv, MAR, is the first executive minister (retired) of the newest American Baptist Churches USA region, the Evergreen Association. Nora J. Percival is a Hicksite Friend (Quaker) with a strong interest in Quaker process and history. Excerpted from Sacred Decisions: Consensus in Faith Communities by Marcia J. Patton and Nora J. Percival. Copyright ©2021 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.